All posts by Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J. S. Davies

What Is Going to Happen in Ukraine?

People gather in Rome to call for peace, February 15, 2022 | Photo Credit: Reuters

Every day brings new noise and fury in the crisis over Ukraine, mostly from Washington. But what is really likely to happen?

There are three possible scenarios:

The first is that Russia will suddenly launch an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

The second is that the Ukrainian government in Kyiv will launch an escalation of its civil war against the self-declared People’s Republics of Donetsk (DPR) and Luhansk (LPR), provoking various possible reactions from other countries.

The third is that neither of these will happen, and the crisis will pass without a major escalation of the war in the short term.

So who will do what, and how will other countries respond in each case?

Unprovoked Russian invasion

This seems to be the least likely outcome.

An actual Russian invasion would unleash unpredictable and cascading consequences that could escalate quickly, leading to mass civilian casualties, a new refugee crisis in Europe, war between Russia and NATO, or even nuclear war.

If Russia wanted to annex the DPR and LPR, it could have done so amid the crisis that followed the U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine in 2014. Russia already faced a furious Western response over its annexation of Crimea, so the international cost of annexing the DPR and LPR, which were also asking to rejoin Russia, would have been less then than it would be now.

Russia instead adopted a carefully calculated position in which it gave the Republics only covert military and political support. If Russia was really ready to risk so much more now than in 2014, that would be a dreadful reflection of just how far U.S.-Russian relations have sunk.

If Russia does launch an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine or annex the DPR and LPR, Biden has already said that the United States and NATO would not directly fight a war with Russia over Ukraine, although that promise could be severely tested by the hawks in Congress and a media hellbent on stirring up anti-Russia hysteria.

However, the United States and its allies would definitely impose heavy new sanctions on Russia, cementing the Cold War economic and political division of the world between the United States and its allies on one hand, and Russia, China and their allies on the other. Biden would achieve the full-blown Cold War that successive U.S. administrations have been cooking up for a decade, and which seems to be the unstated purpose of this manufactured crisis.

In terms of Europe, the U.S. geopolitical goal is clearly to engineer a complete breakdown in relations between Russia and the European Union (EU), to bind Europe to the United States. Forcing Germany to cancel its $11 billion Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia will certainly make Germany more energy dependent on the U.S. and its allies. The overall result would be exactly as Lord Ismay, NATO’s first Secretary General, described when he said that the purpose of the alliance was to keep “the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down.”

Brexit (the U.K. departure from the EU) detached the U.K. from the EU and cemented its “special relationship” and military alliance with the United States. In the current crisis, this joined-at-the-hip U.S.-U.K. alliance is reprising the unified role it played to diplomatically engineer and wage wars on Iraq in 1991 and 2003.

Today, China and the European Union (led by France and Germany) are the two leading trade partners of most countries in the world, a position formerly occupied by the United States. If the U.S. strategy in this crisis succeeds, it will erect a new Iron Curtain between Russia and the rest of Europe to inextricably tie the EU to the United States and prevent it from becoming a truly independent pole in a new multipolar world. If Biden pulls this off, he will have reduced America’s celebrated “victory” in the Cold War to simply dismantling the Iron Curtain and rebuilding it a few hundred miles to the east 30 years later.

But Biden may be trying to close the barn door after the horse has bolted. The EU is already an independent economic power. It is politically diverse and sometimes divided, but its political divisions seem manageable when compared with the political chaos, corruption and endemic poverty in the United States. Most Europeans think their political systems are healthier and more democratic than America’s, and they seem to be correct.

Like China, the EU and its members are proving to be more reliable partners for international trade and peaceful development than the self-absorbed, capricious and militaristic United States, where positive steps by one administration are regularly undone by the next, and whose military aid and arms sales destabilize countries (as in Africa right now), and strengthen dictatorships and extreme right-wing governments around the world.

But an unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine would almost certainly fulfill Biden’s goal of isolating Russia from Europe, at least in the short term. If Russia was ready to pay that price, it would be because it now sees the renewed Cold War division of Europe by the United States and NATO as unavoidable and irrevocable, and has concluded that it must consolidate and strengthen its defenses. That would also imply that Russia has China’s full support for doing so, heralding a darker and more dangerous future for the whole world.

Ukrainian escalation of civil war

The second scenario, an escalation of the civil war by Ukrainian forces, seems more likely.

Whether it is a full-scale invasion of the Donbas or something less, its main purpose from the U.S. point of view would be to provoke Russia into intervening more directly in Ukraine, to fulfill Biden’s prediction of a “Russian invasion” and unleash the maximum pressure sanctions he has threatened.

While Western leaders have been warning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russian, DPR and LPR officials have been warning for months that Ukrainian government forces were escalating the civil war and have 150,000 troops and new weapons poised to attack the DPR and LPR.

In that scenario, the massive U.S. and Western arms shipments arriving in Ukraine on the pretext of deterring a Russian invasion would, in fact, be intended for use in an already planned Ukrainian government offensive.

On one hand, if Ukrainian President Zelensky and his government are planning an offensive in the East, why are they so publicly playing down fears of a Russian invasion? Surely they would be joining the chorus from Washington, London and Brussels, setting the stage to point their fingers at Russia as soon as they launch their own escalation.

And why are the Russians not more vocal in alerting the world to the danger of escalation by Ukrainian government forces surrounding the DPR and LPR? Surely the Russians have extensive intelligence sources inside Ukraine and would know if Ukraine was indeed planning a new offensive. But the Russians seem much more concerned by the breakdown in U.S.-Russian relations than in what the Ukrainian military may be up to.

On the other hand, the U.S., U.K. and NATO propaganda strategy has been organized in plain sight, with a new “intelligence” revelation or high-level pronouncement for every day of the month. So what might they have up their sleeves? Are they really confident that they can wrong-foot the Russians and leave them carrying the can for a deception operation that could rival the Tonkin Gulf incident or the WMD lies about Iraq?

The plan could be very simple. Ukrainian government forces attack. Russia comes to the defense of the DPR and LPR. Biden and Boris Johnson scream “Invasion,” and “We told you so!” Macron and Scholz mutely echo “Invasion,” and “We stand together.” The United States and its allies impose “maximum pressure” sanctions on Russia, and NATO’s plans for a new Iron Curtain across Europe are a fait accompli.

An added wrinkle could be the kind of “false flag” narrative that US. and U.K. officials have hinted at several times. A Ukrainian government attack on the DPR or LPR could be passed off in the West as a “false flag” provocation by Russia, to muddy the distinction between a Ukrainian government escalation of the civil war and a “Russian invasion.”

It’s unclear whether such plans would work, or whether they would simply divide NATO and Europe, with different countries taking different positions. Tragically, the answer might depend more on how craftily the trap was sprung than on the rights or wrongs of the conflict.

But the critical question will be whether EU nations are ready to sacrifice their own independence and economic prosperity, which depends partly on natural gas supplies from Russia, for the uncertain benefits and debilitating costs of continued subservience to the U.S. empire. Europe would face a stark choice between a full return to its Cold War role on the front line of a possible nuclear war and the peaceful, cooperative future the EU has gradually but steadily built since 1990.

Many Europeans are disillusioned with the neoliberal economic and political order that the EU has embraced, but it was subservience to the United States that led them down that garden path in the first place. Solidifying and deepening that subservience now would consolidate the plutocracy and extreme inequality of U.S.-led neoliberalism, not lead to a way out of it.

Biden may get away with blaming the Russians for everything when he’s kowtowing to war-hawks and preening for the TV cameras in Washington. But European governments have their own intelligence agencies and military advisors, who are not all under the thumb of the CIA and NATO. The German and French intelligence agencies have often warned their bosses not to follow the U.S. pied piper, notably into Iraq in 2003. We must hope they have not all lost their objectivity, analytical skills or loyalty to their own countries since then.

If this backfires on Biden, and Europe ultimately rejects his call to arms against Russia, this could be the moment when Europe bravely steps up to take its place as a strong, independent power in the emerging multipolar world.

Nothing happens

This would be the best outcome of all: an anti-climax to celebrate.

At some point, absent an invasion by Russia or an escalation by Ukraine, Biden would sooner or later have to stop crying “Wolf” every day.

All sides could climb back down from their military build-ups, panicked rhetoric and threatened sanctions.

The Minsk Protocol could be revived, revised and reinvigorated to provide a satisfactory degree of autonomy to the people of the DPR and LPR within Ukraine, or facilitate a peaceful separation.

The United States, Russia and China could begin more serious diplomacy to reduce the threat of nuclear war and resolve their many differences, so that the world could move forward to peace and prosperity instead of backwards to Cold War and nuclear brinkmanship.

Conclusion

However it ends, this crisis should be a wake-up call for Americans of all classes and political persuasions to reevaluate our country’s position in the world. We have squandered trillions of dollars, and millions of other people’s lives, with our militarism and imperialism. The U.S. military budget keeps rising with no end in sight–and now the conflict with Russia has become another justification for prioritizing weapons spending over the needs of our people.

Our corrupt leaders have tried but failed to strangle the emerging multipolar world at birth through militarism and coercion. As we can see after 20 years of war in Afghanistan, we cannot fight and bomb our way to peace or stability, and coercive economic sanctions can be almost as brutal and destructive. We must also re-evaluate the role of NATO and wind down this military alliance that has become such an aggressive and destructive force in the world.

Instead, we must start thinking about how a post-imperial America can play a cooperative and constructive role in this new multipolar world, working with all our neighbors to solve the very serious problems facing humanity in the 21st Century.

The post What Is Going to Happen in Ukraine? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Memo to Congress: Diplomacy for Ukraine Is Spelled M-i-n-s-k

Peace protest at the White House – Photo credit: iacenter.org

While the Biden administration is sending more troops and weapons to inflame the Ukraine conflict and Congress is pouring more fuel on the fire, the American people are on a totally different track.

A December 2021 poll found that a plurality of Americans in both political parties prefer to resolve differences over Ukraine through diplomacy. Another December poll found that a plurality of Americans (48 percent) would oppose going to war with Russia should it invade Ukraine, with only 27 percent favoring U.S. military involvement.

The conservative Koch Institute, which commissioned that poll, concluded that “the United States has no vital interests at stake in Ukraine and continuing to take actions that increase the risk of a confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia is therefore not necessary for our security. After more than two decades of endless war abroad, it is not surprising there is wariness among the American people for yet another war that wouldn’t make us safer or more prosperous.”

The most anti-war popular voice on the right is Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has been lashing out against the hawks in both parties, as have other anti-interventionist libertarians.

On the left, the anti-war sentiment was in full force on February 5, when over 75 protests took place from Maine to Alaska. The protesters, including union activists, environmentalists, healthcare workers and students, denounced pouring even more money into the military when we have so many burning needs at home.

You would think Congress would be echoing the public sentiment that a war with Russia is not in our national interest. Instead, taking our nation to war and supporting the gargantuan military budget seem to be the only issues that both parties agree on.

Most Republicans in Congress are criticizing Biden for not being tough enough (or for focusing on Russia instead of China) and most Democrats are afraid to oppose a Democratic president or be smeared as Putin apologists (remember, Democrats spent four years under Trump demonizing Russia).

Both parties have bills calling for draconian sanctions on Russia and expedited “lethal aid” to Ukraine. The Republicans are advocating for $450 million in new military shipments; the Democrats are one-upping them with a price tag of $500 million.

Progressive Caucus leaders Pramila Jayapal and Barbara Lee have called for negotiations and de-escalation. But others in the Caucus–such as Reps. David Cicilline and Andy Levin–are co-sponsors of the dreadful anti-Russia bill, and Speaker Pelosi is fast-tracking the bill to expedite weapons shipments to Ukraine.

But sending more weapons and imposing heavy-handed sanctions can only ratchet up the resurgent U.S. Cold War on Russia, with all its attendant costs to American society: lavish military spending displacing desperately needed social spending; geopolitical divisions undermining international cooperation for a better future; and, not least, increased risks of a nuclear war that could end life on Earth as we know it.

For those looking for real solutions, we have good news.

Negotiations regarding Ukraine are not limited to President Biden and Secretary Blinken’s failed efforts to browbeat the Russians. There is another already existing diplomatic track for peace in Ukraine, a well-established process called the Minsk Protocol, led by France and Germany and supervised by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The civil war in Eastern Ukraine broke out in early 2014, after the people of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces unilaterally declared independence from Ukraine as the Donetsk (DPR) and Luhansk (LPR) People’s Republics, in response to the U.S.-backed coup in Kiev in February 2014. The post-coup government formed new “National Guard” units to assault the breakaway region, but the separatists fought back and held their territory, with some covert support from Russia. Diplomatic efforts were launched to resolve the conflict.

The original Minsk Protocol was signed by the “Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine” (Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE) in September 2014. It reduced the violence, but failed to end the war. France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine also held a meeting in Normandy in June 2014 and this group became known as the “Normandy Contact Group” or the “Normandy Format.”

All these parties continued to meet and negotiate, together with the leaders of the self-declared Donetsk (DPR) and Luhansk (LPR) People’s Republics in Eastern Ukraine, and they eventually signed the Minsk II agreement on February 12, 2015. The terms were similar to the original Minsk Protocol, but more detailed and with more buy-in from the DPR and LPR.

The Minsk II agreement was unanimously approved by the U.N. Security Council in Resolution 2202 on February 17, 2015. The United States voted in favor of the resolution, and 57 Americans are currently serving as ceasefire monitors with the OSCE in Ukraine.

The key elements of the 2015 Minsk II Agreement were:

–           an immediate bilateral ceasefire between Ukrainian government forces and DPR and LPR forces;

–           the withdrawal of heavy weapons from a 30-kilometer-wide buffer zone along the line of control between government and separatist forces;

–           elections in the secessionist Donetsk (DPR) and Luhansk (LPR) People’s Republics, to be monitored by the OSCE; and,

–           constitutional reforms to grant greater autonomy to the separatist-held areas within a reunified but less centralized Ukraine.

The ceasefire and buffer zone have held well enough for seven years to prevent a return to full-scale civil war, but organizing elections in Donbas that both sides will recognize has proved more difficult.

The DPR and LPR postponed elections several times between 2015 and 2018. They held primary elections in 2016 and, finally, a general election in November 2018. But neither Ukraine, the United States nor the European Union recognized the results, claiming the election was not conducted in compliance with the Minsk Protocol.

For its part, Ukraine has not made the agreed-upon constitutional changes to grant greater autonomy to the separatist regions And the separatists have not allowed the central government to retake control of the international border between Donbas and Russia, as specified in the agreement.

The Normandy Contact Group (France, Germany, Russia, Ukraine) for the Minsk Protocol has met periodically since 2014, and is meeting regularly throughout the current crisis, with its next meeting scheduled for February 10 in Berlin The OSCE’s 680 unarmed civilian monitors and 621 support staff in Ukraine have also continued their work throughout this crisis. Their latest report, issued February 1, documented a 65% decrease in ceasefire violations compared to two months ago.

But increased U.S. military and diplomatic support since 2019 has encouraged President Zelensky to pull back from Ukraine’s commitments under the Minsk Protocol, and to reassert unconditional Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea and Donbas. This has raised credible fears of a new escalation of the civil war, and U.S. support for Zelensky’s more aggressive posture has undermined the existing Minsk-Normandy diplomatic process.

Zelensky’s recent statement that “panic” in Western capitals is economically destabilizing Ukraine suggests that he may now be more aware of the pitfalls in the more confrontational path his government adopted, with U.S. encouragement.

The current crisis should be a wake-up call to all involved that the Minsk-Normandy process remains the only viable framework for a peaceful resolution in Ukraine. It deserves full international support, including from U.S. Members of Congress, especially in light of broken promises on NATO expansion, the U.S. role in the 2014 coup, and now the panic over fears of a Russian invasion that Ukrainian officials say are overblown.

On a separate, albeit related, diplomatic track, the United States and Russia must urgently address the breakdown in their bilateral relations. Instead of bravado and one upmanship, they must restore and build on previous disarmament agreements that they have cavalierly abandoned, placing the whole world in existential danger.

Restoring U.S. support for the Minsk Protocol and the Normandy Format would also help to decouple Ukraine’s already thorny and complex internal problems from the larger geopolitical problem of NATO expansion, which must primarily be resolved by the United States, Russia and NATO.

The United States and Russia must not use the people of Ukraine as pawns in a revived Cold War or as chips in their negotiations over NATO expansion. Ukrainians of all ethnicities deserve genuine support to resolve their differences and find a way to live together in one country – or to separate peacefully, as other people have been allowed to do in Ireland, Bangladesh, Slovakia and throughout the former U.S.S.R. and Yugoslavia.

In 2008, then-U.S. Ambassador to Moscow (now CIA Director) William Burns warned his government that dangling the prospect of NATO membership for Ukraine could lead to civil war and present Russia with a crisis on its border in which it could be forced to intervene.

In a cable published by WikiLeaks, Burns wrote, “Experts tell us that Russia is particularly worried that the strong divisions in Ukraine over NATO membership, with much of the ethnic-Russian community against membership, could lead to a major split, involving violence or at worst, civil war. In that eventuality, Russia would have to decide whether to intervene; a decision Russia does not want to have to face.”

Since Burns’s warning in 2008, successive U.S. administrations have plunged headlong into the crisis he predicted. Members of Congress, especially members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, can play a leading role in restoring sanity to U.S. policy on Ukraine by championing a moratorium on Ukraine’s membership in NATO and a reinvigoration of the Minsk Protocol, which the Trump and Biden administrations have arrogantly tried to upstage and upend with weapons shipments, ultimatums and panic.

OSCE monitoring reports on Ukraine are all headed with the critical message: “Facts Matter.” Members of Congress should embrace that simple principle and educate themselves about the Minsk-Normandy diplomacy. This process has maintained relative peace in Ukraine since 2015, and remains the U.N.-endorsed, internationally agreed-upon framework for a lasting resolution.

If the U.S. government wants to play a constructive role in Ukraine, it should genuinely support this already existing framework for a solution to the crisis, and end the heavy-handed U.S. intervention that has only undermined and delayed its implementation. And our elected officials should start listening to their own constituents, who have absolutely no interest in going to war with Russia.

The post Memo to Congress: Diplomacy for Ukraine Is Spelled M-i-n-s-k first appeared on Dissident Voice.

America Is Reaping What It Sowed in Ukraine

U.S. allies in Ukraine, with NATO, Azov Battalion and neo-Nazi flags. Photo by russia-insider.com

So what are Americans to believe about the rising tensions over Ukraine? The United States and Russia both claim their escalations are defensive, responding to threats and escalations by the other side, but the resulting spiral of escalation can only make war more likely. Ukrainian President Zelensky is warning that “panic” by U.S. and Western leaders is already causing economic destabilization in Ukraine.

U.S. allies do not all support the current U.S. policy. Germany is wisely refusing to funnel more weapons into Ukraine, in keeping with its long-standing policy of not sending weapons into conflict zones. Ralf Stegner, a senior Member of Parliament for Germany’s ruling Social Democrats, told the BBC on January 25th that the Minsk-Normandy process agreed to by France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine in 2015 is still the right framework for ending the civil war.

“The Minsk Agreement hasn’t been applied by both sides,” Stegner explained, “and it just doesn’t make any sense to think that forcing up the military possibilities would make it better. Rather, I think it’s the hour of diplomacy.”

By contrast, most American politicians and corporate media have fallen in line with a one-sided narrative that paints Russia as the aggressor in Ukraine, and support sending more and more weapons to Ukrainian government forces. After decades of U.S. military disasters based on such one-sided narratives, Americans should know better by now. But what is it that our leaders and the corporate media are not telling us this time?

The most critical events that have been airbrushed out of the West’s political narrative are the violation of agreements Western leaders made at the end of the Cold War not to expand NATO into Eastern Europe, and the U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine in February 2014.

Western mainstream media accounts date the crisis in Ukraine back to Russia’s 2014 reintegration of Crimea, and the decision by ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine to secede from Ukraine as the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics.

But these were not unprovoked actions. They were responses to the U.S.-backed coup, in which an armed mob led by the neo-Nazi Right Sector militia stormed the Ukrainian parliament, forcing the elected President Yanukovich and members of his party to flee for their lives. After the events of January 6, 2021, in Washington, that should now be easier for Americans to understand.

The remaining members of parliament voted to form a new government, subverting the political transition and plans for a new election that Yanukovich had publicly agreed to the day before, after meetings with the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland.

The U.S. role in managing the coup was exposed by a leaked 2014 audio recording of Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt working on their plans, which included sidelining the European Union (“Fuck the EU,” as Nuland put it) and shoehorning in U.S. protege Arseniy Yatsenyuk (“Yats”) as Prime Minister.

At the end of the call, Ambassador Pyatt told Nuland, “…we want to try to get somebody with an international personality to come out here and help to midwife this thing.”

Nuland replied (verbatim), “So on that piece Geoff, when I wrote the note, [Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake] Sullivan’s come back to me VFR [very quickly?], saying you need [Vice President] Biden and I said probably tomorrow for an atta-boy and to get the deets [details?] to stick. So Biden’s willing.”

It has never been explained why two senior State Department officials who were plotting a regime change in Ukraine looked to Vice President Biden to “midwife this thing,” instead of to their own boss, Secretary of State John Kerry.

Now that the crisis over Ukraine has blown up with a vengeance during Biden’s first year as president, such unanswered questions about his role in the 2014 coup have become more urgent and troubling. And why did President Biden appoint Nuland to the # 4 position at the State Department, despite (or was it because of?) her critical role in triggering the disintegration of Ukraine and an eight-year-long civil war that has so far killed at least 14,000 people?

Both of Nuland’s hand-picked puppets in Ukraine, Prime Minister Yatsenyuk and President Poroshenko, were soon mired in corruption scandals. Yatsenyuk was forced to resign after two years and Poroshenko was outed in a tax evasion scandal revealed in the Panama Papers. Post-coup, war-torn Ukraine remains the poorest country in Europe, and one of the most corrupt.

The Ukrainian military had little enthusiasm for a civil war against its own people in Eastern Ukraine, so the post-coup government formed new “National Guard” units to assault the separatist People’s Republics. The infamous Azov Battalion drew its first recruits from the Right Sector militia and openly displays neo-Nazi symbols, yet it has kept receiving U.S. arms and training, even after Congress explicitly cut off its U.S. funding in the FY2018 Defense Appropriation bill.

In 2015, the Minsk and Normandy negotiations led to a ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weapons from a buffer zone around the separatist-held areas. Ukraine agreed to grant greater autonomy to Donetsk, Luhansk and other ethnically Russian areas of Ukraine, but it has failed to follow through on that.

A federal system, with some powers devolved to individual provinces or regions, could help to resolve the all-or-nothing power struggle between Ukrainian nationalists and Ukraine’s traditional ties to Russia that has dogged its politics since independence in 1991.

But the U.S. and NATO’s interest in Ukraine is not really about resolving its regional differences, but about something else altogether. The U.S. coup was calculated to put Russia in an impossible position. If Russia did nothing, post-coup Ukraine would sooner or later join NATO, as NATO members already agreed to in principle in 2008. NATO forces would advance right up to Russia’s border and Russia’s important naval base at Sevastopol in the Crimea would fall under NATO control.

On the other hand, if Russia had responded to the coup by invading Ukraine, there would have been no turning back from a disastrous new Cold War with the West. To Washington’s frustration, Russia found a middle path out of this dilemma, by accepting the result of Crimea’s referendum to rejoin Russia, but only giving covert support to the separatists in the East.

In 2021, with Nuland once again installed in a corner office at the State Department, the Biden administration quickly cooked up a plan to put Russia in a new pickle. The United States had already given Ukraine $2 billion in military aid since 2014, and Biden has added another $650 million to that, along with deployments of U.S. and NATO military trainers.

Ukraine has still not implemented the constitutional changes called for in the Minsk agreements, and the unconditional military support the United States and NATO have provided has encouraged Ukraine’s leaders to effectively abandon the Minsk-Normandy process and simply reassert sovereignty over all of Ukraine’s territory, including Crimea.

In practice, Ukraine could only recover those territories by a major escalation of the civil war, and that was exactly what Ukraine and its NATO backers appeared to be preparing for in March 2021. But that prompted Russia to begin moving troops and conducting military exercises, within its own territory (including Crimea), but close enough to Ukraine to deter a new offensive by Ukrainian government forces.

In October, Ukraine launched new attacks in Donbass. Russia, which still had about 100,000 troops stationed near Ukraine, responded with new troop movements and military exercises. U.S. officials launched an information warfare campaign to frame Russia’s troop movements as an unprovoked threat to invade Ukraine, concealing their own role in fueling the threatened Ukrainian escalation that Russia is responding to. U.S. propaganda has gone so far as to preemptively dismiss any actual new Ukrainian assault in the East as a Russian false-flag operation.

Underlying all these tensions is NATO’s expansion through Eastern Europe to the borders of Russia, in violation of commitments Western officials made at the end of the Cold War. The U.S. and NATO’s refusal to acknowledge that they have violated those commitments or to negotiate a diplomatic resolution with the Russians is a central factor in the breakdown of U.S.-Russian relations.

While U.S. officials and corporate media are scaring the pants off Americans and Europeans with tales of an impending Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russian officials are warning that U.S.-Russian relations are close to the breaking point. If the United States and NATO are not prepared to negotiate new disarmament treaties, remove U.S. missiles from countries bordering Russia and dial back NATO expansion, Russian officials say they will have no option but to respond with “appropriate military-technical reciprocal measures.”

This expression may not refer to an invasion of Ukraine, as most Western commentators have assumed, but to a broader strategy that could include actions that hit much closer to home for Western leaders.

For example, Russia could place short-range nuclear missiles in Kaliningrad (between Lithuania and Poland), within range of European capitals; it could establish military bases in Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and other friendly countries; and it could deploy submarines armed with hypersonic nuclear missiles to the Western Atlantic, from where they could destroy Washington, D.C. in a matter of minutes.

It has long been a common refrain among American activists to point to the 800 or so U.S. military bases all over the world and ask, “How would Americans like it if Russia or China built military bases in Mexico or Cuba?” Well, we may be about to find out.

Hypersonic nuclear missiles off the U.S. East Coast would put the United States in a similar position to that in which NATO has placed the Russians. China could adopt a similar strategy in the Pacific to respond to U.S. military bases and deployments around its coast.

So the revived Cold War that U.S. officials and corporate media hacks have been mindlessly cheering on could very quickly turn into one in which the United States would find itself just as encircled and endangered as its enemies.

Will the prospect of such a 21st Century Cuban Missile Crisis be enough to bring America’s irresponsible leaders to their senses and back to the negotiating table, to start unwinding the suicidal mess they have blundered into? We certainly hope so.

The post America Is Reaping What It Sowed in Ukraine first appeared on Dissident Voice.

After a Year of Biden, Why Do We Still Have Trump’s Foreign Policy?

Getty Images

President Biden and the Democrats were highly critical of President Trump’s foreign policy, so it was reasonable to expect that Biden would quickly remedy its worst impacts. As a senior member of the Obama administration, Biden surely needed no schooling on Obama’s diplomatic agreements with Cuba and Iran, both of which began to resolve long-standing foreign policy problems and provided models for the renewed emphasis on diplomacy that Biden was promising.

Tragically for America and the world, Biden has failed to restore Obama’s progressive initiatives, and has instead doubled down on many of Trump’s most dangerous and destabilizing policies. It is especially ironic and sad that a president who ran so stridently on being different from Trump has been so reluctant to reverse his regressive policies. Now the Democrats’ failure to deliver on their promises with respect to both domestic and foreign policy is undermining their prospects in November’s midterm election.

Here is our assessment of Biden’s handling of ten critical foreign policy issues:

  1. Prolonging the agony of the people of Afghanistan. It is perhaps symptomatic of Biden’s foreign policy problems that the signal achievement of his first year in office was an initiative launched by Trump, to withdraw the United States from its 20-year war in Afghanistan. But Biden’s implementation of this policy was tainted by the same failure to understand Afghanistan that doomed and dogged at least three prior administrations and the U.S.’s hostile military occupation for 20 years, leading to the speedy restoration of the Taliban government and the televised chaos of the U.S. withdrawal.

Now, instead of helping the Afghan people recover from two decades of U.S.-inflicted destruction, Biden has seized $9.4 billion in Afghan foreign currency reserves, while the people of Afghanistan suffer through a desperate humanitarian crisis. It is hard to imagine how even Donald Trump could be more cruel or vindictive.

  1. Provoking a crisis with Russia over Ukraine. Biden’s first year in office is ending with a dangerous escalation of tensions at the Russia/Ukraine border, a situation that threatens to devolve into a military conflict between the world’s two most heavily armed nuclear states–the United States and Russia. The United States bears much responsibility for this crisis by supporting the violent overthrow of the elected government of Ukraine in 2014, backing NATO expansion right up to Russia’s border, and arming and training Ukrainian forces.

Biden’s failure to acknowledge Russia’s legitimate security concerns has led to the present impasse, and Cold Warriors within his administration are threatening Russia instead of proposing concrete measures to de-escalate the situation.

  1. Escalating Cold War tensions and a dangerous arms race with China. President Trump launched a tariff war with China that economically damaged both countries, and reignited a dangerous Cold War and arms race with China and Russia to justify an ever-increasing U.S. military budget.

After a decade of unprecedented U.S. military spending and aggressive military expansion under Bush II and Obama, the U.S. “pivot to Asia” militarily encircled China, forcing it to invest in more robust defense forces and advanced weapons. Trump, in turn, used China’s strengthened defenses as a pretext for further increases in U.S. military spending, launching a new arms race that has raised the existential risk of nuclear war to a new level.

Biden has only exacerbated these dangerous international tensions. Alongside the risk of war, his aggressive policies toward China have led to an ominous rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans, and created obstacles to much-needed cooperation with China to address climate change, the pandemic and other global problems.

  1. Abandoning Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran. After President Obama’s sanctions against Iran utterly failed to force it to halt its civilian nuclear program, he finally took a progressive, diplomatic approach, which led to the JCPOA nuclear agreement in 2015. Iran scrupulously met all its obligations under the treaty, but Trump withdrew the United States from the JCPOA in 2018. Trump’s withdrawal was vigorously condemned by Democrats, including candidate Biden, and Senator Sanders promised to rejoin the JCPOA on his first day in office if he became president.

Instead of immediately rejoining an agreement that worked for all parties, the Biden administration thought it could pressure Iran to negotiate a “better deal.” Exasperated Iranians instead elected a more conservative government and Iran moved forward on enhancing its nuclear program.

A year later, and after eight rounds of shuttle diplomacy in Vienna, Biden has still not rejoined the agreement. Ending his first year in the White House with the threat of another Middle East war is enough to give Biden an “F” in diplomacy.

  1. Backing Big Pharma over a People’s Vaccine. Biden took office as the first Covid vaccines were being approved and rolled out across the United States and the world. Severe inequities in global vaccine distribution between rich and poor countries were immediately apparent and became known as “vaccine apartheid.”

Instead of manufacturing and distributing vaccines on a non-profit basis to tackle the pandemic as the global public health crisis that it is, the United States and other Western countries chose to maintain the neoliberal regime of patents and corporate monopolies on vaccine manufacture and distribution. The failure to open up the manufacture and distribution of vaccines to poorer countries gave the Covid virus free rein to spread and mutate, leading to new global waves of infection and death from the Delta and Omicron variants

Biden belatedly agreed to support a patent waiver for Covid vaccines under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, but with no real plan for a “People’s Vaccine,” Biden’s concession has made no impact on millions of preventable deaths.

  1. Ensuring catastrophic global warming at COP26 in Glasgow. After Trump stubbornly ignored the climate crisis for four years, environmentalists were encouraged when Biden used his first days in office to rejoin the Paris climate accord and cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline.

But by the time Biden got to Glasgow, he had let the centerpiece of his own climate plan, the Clean Energy Performance Program (CEPP), be stripped out of the Build Back Better bill in Congress at the behest of fossil-fuel industry sock-puppet Joe Manchin, turning the U.S. pledge of a 50% cut from 2005 emissions by 2030 into an empty promise.

Biden’s speech in Glasgow highlighted China and Russia’s failures, neglecting to mention that the United States has higher emissions per capita than either of them. Even as COP26 was taking place, the Biden administration infuriated activists by putting oil and gas leases up for auction for 730,000 acres of the American West and 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico. At the one-year mark, Biden has talked the talk, but when it comes to confronting Big Oil, he is not walking the walk, and the whole world is paying the price.

  1. Political prosecutions of Julian Assange, Daniel Hale and Guantanamo torture victims. Under President Biden, the United States remains a country where the systematic killing of civilians and other war crimes go unpunished, while whistleblowers who muster the courage to expose these horrific crimes to the public are prosecuted and jailed as political prisoners.

In July 2021, former drone pilot Daniel Hale was sentenced to 45 months in prison for exposing the killing of civilians in America’s drone wars. WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange still languishes in Belmarsh Prison in England, after 11 years fighting extradition to the United States for exposing U.S. war crimes.

Twenty years after it set up an illegal concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to imprison 779 mostly innocent people kidnapped around the world, 39 prisoners remain there in illegal, extrajudicial detention. Despite promises to close this sordid chapter of U.S. history, the prison is still functioning and Biden is allowing the Pentagon to actually build a new, closed courtroom at Guantanamo to more easily keep the workings of this gulag hidden from public scrutiny.

  1. Economic siege warfare against the people of Cuba, Venezuela and other countries. Trump unilaterally rolled back Obama’s reforms on Cuba and recognized unelected Juan Guaidó as the “president” of Venezuela, as the United States tightened the screws on its economy with “maximum pressure” sanctions.

Biden has continued Trump’s failed economic siege warfare against countries that resist U.S. imperial dictates, inflicting endless pain on their people without seriously imperiling, let alone bringing down, their governments. Brutal U.S. sanctions and efforts at regime change have universally failed for decades, serving mainly to undermine the United States’s own democratic and human rights credentials.

Juan Guaidó is now the least popular opposition figure in Venezuela, and genuine grassroots movements opposed to U.S. intervention are bringing popular democratic and socialist governments to power across Latin America, in Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Honduras – and maybe Brazil in 2022.

  1. Still supporting Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen and its repressive ruler. Under Trump, Democrats and a minority of Republicans in Congress gradually built a bipartisan majority that voted to withdraw from the Saudi-led coalition attacking Yemen and stop sending arms to Saudi Arabia. Trump vetoed their efforts, but the Democratic election victory in 2020 should have led to an end to the war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

Instead, Biden only issued an order to stop selling “offensive” weapons to Saudi Arabia, without clearly defining that term, and went on to okay a $650 million weapons sale. The United States still supports the Saudi war, even as the resulting humanitarian crisis kills thousands of Yemeni children. And despite Biden’s pledge to treat the Saudis’ cruel leader, MBS, as a pariah, Biden refused to even sanction MBS for his barbaric murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

  1. Still complicit in illegal Israeli occupation, settlements and war crimes. The United States is Israel’s largest arms supplier, and Israel is the world’s largest recipient of U.S. military aid (approximately $4 billion annually), despite its illegal occupation of Palestine, widely condemned war crimes in Gaza and illegal settlement building. U.S. military aid and arms sales to Israel clearly violate the U.S. Leahy Laws and Arms Export Control Act.

Donald Trump was flagrant in his disdain for Palestinian rights, including tranferring the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to a property in Jerusalem that is only partly within Israel’s internationally recognized border, a move that infuriated Palestinians and drew international condemnation.

But nothing has changed under Biden. The U.S. position on Israel and Palestine is as illegitimate and contradictory as ever, and the U.S. Embassy to Israel remains on illegally occupied land. In May, Biden supported the latest Israeli assault on Gaza, which killed 256 Palestinians, half of them civilians, including 66 children.

Conclusion

Each part of this foreign policy fiasco costs human lives and creates regional–even global–instability. In every case, progressive alternative policies are readily available. The only thing lacking is political will and independence from corrupt vested interests.

The United States has squandered unprecedented wealth, global goodwill and a historic position of international leadership to pursue unattainable imperial ambitions, using military force and other forms of violence and coercion in flagrant violation of the UN Charter and international law.

Candidate Biden promised to restore America’s position of global leadership, but has instead doubled down on the policies through which the United States lost that position in the first place, under a succession of Republican and Democratic administrations. Trump was only the latest iteration in America’s race to the bottom.

Biden has wasted a vital year doubling down on Trump’s failed policies. In the coming year, we hope that the public will remind Biden of its deep-seated aversion to war and that he will respond—albeit reluctantly—by adopting more dovish and rational ways.

The post After a Year of Biden, Why Do We Still Have Trump’s Foreign Policy? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Hey, Hey, USA! How Many Bombs Did You Drop Today?

August 2020 U.S. drone strike in Kabul killed 10 Afghan civilians. (Credit: Getty Images)

The Pentagon has finally published its first Airpower Summary since President Biden took office nearly a year ago. These monthly reports have been published since 2007 to document the number of bombs and missiles dropped by U.S.-led air forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria since 2004. But President Trump stopped publishing them after February 2020, shrouding continued U.S. bombing in secrecy.

Over the past 20 years, as documented in the table below, U.S. and allied air forces have dropped over 337,000 bombs and missiles on other countries. That is an average of 46 strikes per day for 20 years. This endless bombardment has not only been deadly and devastating for its victims but is broadly recognized as seriously undermining international peace and security and diminishing America’s standing in the world.

The U.S. government and political establishment have been remarkably successful at keeping the American public in the dark about the horrific consequences of these long-term campaigns of mass destruction, allowing them to maintain the illusion of U.S. militarism as a force for good in the world in their domestic political rhetoric.

Now, even in the face of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, they are doubling down on their success at selling this counterfactual narrative to the American public to reignite their old Cold War with Russia and China, dramatically and predictably increasing the risk of nuclear war.

The new Airpower Summary data reveal that the United States has dropped another 3,246 bombs and missiles on Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria (2,068 under Trump and 1,178 under Biden) since February 2020.

The good news is that U.S. bombing of those 3 countries has significantly decreased from the over 12,000 bombs and missiles it dropped on them in 2019. In fact, since the withdrawal of U.S. occupation forces from Afghanistan in August, the U.S. military has officially conducted no air strikes there, and only dropped 13 bombs or missiles on Iraq and Syria – although this does not preclude additional unreported strikes by forces under CIA command or control.

Presidents Trump and Biden both deserve credit for recognizing that endless bombing and occupation could not deliver victory in Afghanistan. The speed with which the U.S.-installed government fell to the Taliban once the U.S. withdrawal was under way confirmed how 20 years of hostile military occupation, aerial bombardment and support for corrupt governments ultimately served only to drive the war-weary people of Afghanistan back to Taliban rule.

Biden’s callous decision to follow 20 years of colonial occupation and aerial bombardment in Afghanistan with the same kind of brutal economic siege warfare the United States has inflicted on Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela can only further discredit America in the eyes of the world.

There has been no accountability for these 20 years of senseless destruction. Even with the publication of Airpower Summaries, the ugly reality of U.S. bombing wars and the mass casualties they inflict remain largely hidden from the American people.

How many of the 3,246 attacks documented in the Airpower Summary since February 2020 were you aware of before reading this article? You probably heard about the drone strike that killed 10 Afghan civilians in Kabul in August 2021. But what about the other 3,245 bombs and missiles? Whom did they kill or maim, and whose homes did they destroy?

The December 2021 New York Times exposé of the consequences of U.S. airstrikes, the result of a five-year investigation, was stunning not only for the high civilian casualties and military lies it exposed, but also because it revealed just how little investigative reporting the U.S. media have done on these two decades of war.

In America’s industrialized, remote-control air wars, even the U.S. military personnel most directly and intimately involved are shielded from human contact with the people whose lives they are destroying, while for most of the American public, it is as if these hundreds of thousands of deadly explosions never even happened.

The lack of public awareness of U.S. airstrikes is not the result of a lack of concern for the mass destruction our government commits in our names. In the rare cases we find out about, like the murderous drone strike in Kabul in August, the public wants to know what happened and strongly supports U.S. accountability for civilian deaths.

So public ignorance of 99% of U.S. air strikes and their consequences is not the result of public apathy, but of deliberate decisions by the U.S. military, politicians of both parties and corporate media to keep the public in the dark. The largely unremarked 21-month-long suppression of monthly Airpower Summaries is only the latest example of this.

Now that the new Airpower Summary has filled in the previously hidden figures for 2020-21, here is the most complete data available on 20 years of deadly and destructive U.S. and allied air strikes.

Numbers of bombs and missiles dropped on other countries by the United States and its allies since 2001:

Iraq (& Syria*)       Afghanistan    Yemen Other Countries**
2001             214         17,500
2002             252           6,500            1
2003        29,200
2004             285                86             1 (Pk)
2005             404              176             3 (Pk)
2006             310           2,644      7,002 (Le,Pk)
2007           1,708           5,198              9 (Pk,S)
2008           1,075           5,215           40 (Pk,S)
2009             126           4,184             3     5,554 (Pk,Pl)
2010                  8           5,126             2         128 (Pk)
2011                  4           5,411           13     7,763 (Li,Pk,S)
2012           4,083           41           54 (Li, Pk,S)
2013           2,758           22           32 (Li,Pk,S)
2014         6,292*           2,365           20      5,058 (Li,Pl,Pk,S)
2015       28,696*              947   14,191           28 (Li,Pk,S)
2016       30,743*           1,337   14,549         529 (Li,Pk,S)
2017       39,577*           4,361   15,969         301 (Li,Pk,S)
2018         8,713*           7,362     9,746           84 (Li,Pk,S)
2019         4,729*           7,423     3,045           65 (Li,S)
2020         1,188*           1,631     7,622           54 (S)
2021             554*               801     4,428      1,512 (Pl,S)
Total     154, 078*         85,108   69,652     28,217

 Grand Total = 337,055 bombs and missiles

**Other Countries: Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Palestine, Somalia.

These figures are based on US. Airpower Summaries for Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria; the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s count of drone strikes in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen; the Yemen Data Project‘s count of bombs and missiles dropped on Yemen (only through September 2021); the New America Foundation’s database of foreign air strikes in Libya; and other sources.

There are several categories of air strikes that are not included in this table, meaning that the true numbers of weapons unleashed are certainly higher. These include:

Helicopter strikes: Military Times published an article in February 2017 titled, “The U.S. military’s stats on deadly air strikes are wrong. Thousands have gone unreported.” The largest pool of air strikes not included in U.S. Airpower Summaries are strikes by attack helicopters. The U.S. Army told the authors its helicopters had conducted 456 otherwise unreported air strikes in Afghanistan in 2016. The authors explained that the non-reporting of helicopter strikes has been consistent throughout the post-9/11 wars, and they still did not know how many missiles were fired in those 456 attacks in Afghanistan in the one year they investigated.

AC-130 gunships: The U.S. military did not destroy the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, in 2015 with bombs or missiles, but with a Lockheed-Boeing AC-130 gunship. These machines of mass destruction, usually manned by U.S. Air Force special operations forces, are designed to circle a target on the ground, pouring howitzer shells and cannon fire into it until it is completely destroyed. The U.S. has used AC-130s in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and Syria.

Strafing runs: U.S. Airpower Summaries for 2004-2007 included a note that their tally of “strikes with munitions dropped… does not include 20mm and 30mm cannon or rockets.” But the 30mm cannons on A-10 Warthogs and other ground attack planes are powerful weapons, originally designed to destroy Soviet tanks. A-10s can fire 65 depleted uranium shells per second to blanket an area with deadly and indiscriminate fire. But that does not appear to count as a “weapons release” in U.S. Airpower Summaries.

“Counter-insurgency” and “counter-terrorism” operations in other parts of the world: The United States formed a military coalition with 11 West African countries in 2005, and has built a drone base in Niger, but we have not found any systematic accounting of U.S. and allied air strikes in that region, or in the Philippines, Latin America or elsewhere.

The failure of the U.S. government, politicians and corporate media to honestly inform and educate the American public about the systematic mass destruction wreaked by our country’s armed forces has allowed this carnage to continue largely unremarked and unchecked for 20 years.

It has also left us precariously vulnerable to the revival of an anachronistic, Manichean Cold War narrative that risks even greater catastrophe. In this topsy-turvy, “through the looking glass” narrative, the country actually bombing cities to rubble and waging wars that kill millions of people, presents itself as a well-intentioned force for good in the world. Then it paints countries like China, Russia and Iran, which have understandably strengthened their defenses to deter the United States from attacking them, as threats to the American people and to world peace.

The high-level talks beginning on January 10th in Geneva between the United States and Russia are a critical opportunity, maybe even a last chance, to rein in the escalation of the current Cold War before this breakdown in East-West relations becomes irreversible or devolves into a military conflict.

If we are to emerge from this morass of militarism and avoid the risk of an apocalyptic war with Russia or China, the U.S. public must challenge the counterfactual Cold War narrative that U.S. military and civilian leaders are peddling to justify their ever-increasing investments in nuclear weapons and the U.S. war machine.

The post Hey, Hey, USA! How Many Bombs Did You Drop Today? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Ten Contradictions That Plague Biden’s Democracy Summit

Protest by students in Thailand. AP

President Biden’s virtual Summit for Democracy on December 9-10 is part of a campaign to restore the United States’ standing in the world, which took such a beating under President Trump’s erratic foreign policies. Biden hopes to secure his place at the head of the “Free World” table by coming out as a champion for human rights and democratic practices worldwide.

The greater possible value of this gathering of 111 countries is that it could instead serve as an “intervention,” or an opportunity for people and governments around the world to express their concerns about the flaws in U.S. democracy and the undemocratic way the United States deals with the rest of the world. Here are just a few issues that should be considered:

(1)  The U.S. claims to be a leader in global democracy at a time when its own already deeply flawed democracy is crumbling, as evidenced by the shocking January 6 assault on the nation’s Capitol. On top of the systemic problem of a duopoly that keeps other political parties locked out and the obscene influence of money in politics, the U.S. electoral system is being further eroded by the increasing tendency to contest credible election results and widespread efforts to suppress voter participation (19 states have enacted 33 laws that make it more difficult for citizens to vote).

A broad global ranking of countries by various measures of democracy puts the U.S. at # 33, while the U.S. government-funded Freedom House ranks the United States at # 61 in the world for political freedom and civil liberties, on a par with Mongolia, Panama and Romania.

(2)  The unspoken U.S. agenda at this “summit” is to demonize and isolate China and Russia. But if we agree that democracies should be judged by how they treat their people, then why is the U.S. Congress failing to pass a bill to provide basic services like health care, child care, housing and education, which are guaranteed to most Chinese citizens for free or at minimal cost?

And consider China’s extraordinary success in relieving poverty. As UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, “Every time I visit China, I am stunned by the speed of change and progress. You have created one of the most dynamic economies in the world, while helping more than 800 million people to lift themselves out of poverty – the greatest anti-poverty achievement in history.”

China has also far surpassed the U.S. in dealing with the pandemic. Little wonder a Harvard University report found that over 90% of the Chinese people like their government. One would think that China’s extraordinary domestic achievements would make the Biden administration a bit more humble about its “one-size-fits-all” concept of democracy.

(3)  The climate crisis and the pandemic are a wake-up call for global cooperation, but this Summit is transparently designed to exacerbate divisions. The Chinese and Russian ambassadors to Washington have publicly accused the United States of staging the summit to stoke ideological confrontation and divide the world into hostile camps, while China held a competing International Democracy Forum with 120 countries the weekend before the U.S. summit.

Inviting the government of Taiwan to the U.S. summit further erodes the 1972 Shanghai Communiqué, in which the United States acknowledged the One-China policy and agreed to cut back military installations on Taiwan.

Also invited is the corrupt anti-Russian government installed by the 2014 U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine, which reportedly has half its military forces poised to invade the self-declared People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in Eastern Ukraine, who declared independence in response to the 2014 coup. The U.S. and NATO have so far supported this major escalation of a civil war that already killed 14,000 people.

(4)  The U.S. and its Western allies—the self-anointed leaders of human rights—just happen to be the major suppliers of weapons and training to some of the world’s most vicious dictators. Despite its verbal commitment to human rights, the Biden administration and Congress recently approved a $650 million weapons deal for Saudi Arabia at a time when this repressive kingdom is bombing and starving the people of Yemen.

Heck, the administration even uses U.S. tax dollars to “donate” weapons to dictators, like General Sisi in Egypt, who oversees a regime with thousands of political prisoners, many of whom have been tortured. Of course, these U.S. allies were not invited to the Democracy Summit—that would be too embarrassing.

(5)  Perhaps someone should inform Biden that the right to survive is a basic human right. The right to food is recognized in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as part of the right to an adequate standard of living, and is enshrined in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

So why is the U.S. imposing brutal sanctions on countries from Venezuela to North Korea that are causing inflation, scarcity, and malnutrition among children? Former UN special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas has blasted the United States for engaging in “economic warfare” and compared its illegal unilateral sanctions to medieval sieges. No country that purposely denies children the right to food and starves them to death can call itself a champion of democracy.

(6)   Since the United States was defeated by the Taliban and withdrew its occupation forces from Afghanistan, it is acting as a very sore loser and reneging on basic international and humanitarian commitments. Certainly Taliban rule in Afghanistan is a setback for human rights, especially for women, but pulling the plug on Afghanistan’s economy is catastrophic for the entire nation.

The United States is denying the new government access to billions of dollars in Afghanistan’s foreign currency reserves held in U.S. banks, causing a collapse in the banking system. Hundreds of thousands of public servants have not been paid. The UN is warning that millions of Afghans are at risk of starving to death this winter as the result of these coercive measures by the United States and its allies.

(7)  It’s telling that the Biden administration had such a difficult time finding Middle Eastern countries to invite to the summit. The United States just spent 20 years and $8 trillion trying to impose its brand of democracy on the Middle East and Afghanistan, so you’d think it would have a few proteges to showcase.

But no. In the end, they could only agree to invite the state of Israel, an apartheid regime that enforces Jewish supremacy over all the land it occupies, legally or otherwise. Embarrassed to have no Arab states attending, the Biden administration added Iraq, whose unstable government has been racked by corruption and sectarian divisions ever since the U.S. invasion in 2003. Its brutal security forces have killed over 600 demonstrators since huge anti-government protests began in 2019.

(8)  What, pray tell, is democratic about the U.S. gulag at Guantánamo Bay? The U.S. Government opened the Guantanamo detention center in January 2002 as a way to circumvent the rule of law as it kidnapped and jailed people without trial after the crimes of September 11, 2001. Since then, 780 men have been detained there. Very few were charged with any crime or confirmed as combatants, but still they were tortured, held for years without charges, and never tried.

This gross violation of human rights continues, with most of the 39 remaining detainees never even charged with a crime. Yet this country that has locked up hundreds of innocent men with no due process for up to 20 years still claims the authority to pass judgment on the legal processes of other countries, in particular on China’s efforts to cope with Islamist radicalism and terrorism among its Uighur minority.

(9)  With the recent investigations into the March 2019 U.S. bombing in Syria that left 70 civilians dead and the drone strike that killed an Afghan family of ten in August 2021, the truth of massive civilian casualties in U.S. drone strikes and airstrikes is gradually emerging, as well as how these war crimes have perpetuated and fueled the “war on terror,” instead of winning or ending it.

If this was a real democracy summit, whistleblowers like Daniel Hale, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange, who have risked so much to expose the reality of U.S. war crimes to the world, would be honored guests at the summit instead of political prisoners in the American gulag.

(10)  The United States picks and chooses countries as “democracies” on an entirely self-serving basis. But in the case of Venezuela, it has gone even farther and invited an imaginary U.S.-appointed “president” instead of the country’s actual government.

The Trump administration anointed Juan Guaidó as “president” of Venezuela, and Biden invited him to the summit, but Guaidó is neither a president nor a democrat, and he boycotted parliamentary elections in 2020 and regional elections in 2021. But Guaido did come tops in one recent opinion poll, with the highest public disapproval of any opposition figure in Venezuela at 83%, and the lowest approval rating at 13%.

Guaidó named himself “interim president” (without any legal mandate) in 2019, and launched a failed coup against the elected government of Venezuela. When all his U.S.-backed efforts to overthrow the government failed, Guaidó signed off on a mercenary invasion which failed even more spectacularly. The European Union no longer recognizes Guaido’s claim to the presidency, and his “interim foreign minister” recently resigned, accusing Guaidó of corruption.

Conclusion

Just as the people of Venezuela have not elected or appointed Juan Guaidó as their president, the people of the world have not elected or appointed the United States as the president or leader of all Earthlings.

When the United States emerged from the Second World War as the strongest economic and military power in the world, its leaders had the wisdom not to claim such a role. Instead they brought the whole world together to form the United Nations, on the principles of sovereign equality, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, a universal commitment to the peaceful resolution of disputes and a prohibition on the threat or use of force against each other.

The United States enjoyed great wealth and international power under the UN system it devised. But in the post-Cold War era, power-hungry U.S. leaders came to see the UN Charter and the rule of international law as obstacles to their insatiable ambitions. They belatedly staked a claim to universal global leadership and dominance, relying on the threat and use of force that the UN Charter prohibits. The results have been catastrophic for millions of people in many countries, including Americans.

Since the United States has invited its friends from around the world to this ”democracy summit,” maybe they can use the occasion to try to persuade their bomb-toting friend to recognize that its bid for unilateral global power has failed, and that it should instead make a real commitment to peace, cooperation and international democracy under the rules-based order of the UN Charter.

The post Ten Contradictions That Plague Biden’s Democracy Summit first appeared on Dissident Voice.

How Congress Loots the Treasury for the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex

Despite a disagreement over some amendments in the Senate, the United States Congress is poised to pass a $778 billion military budget bill for 2022. As they have been doing year after year, our elected officials are preparing to hand the lion’s share – over 65% – of federal discretionary spending to the U.S. war machine, even as they wring their hands over spending a mere quarter of that amount on the Build Back Better Act.

The U.S. military’s incredible record of systematic failure—most recently its final trouncing by the Taliban after twenty years of death, destruction and lies in Afghanistan—cries out for a top-to-bottom review of its dominant role in U.S. foreign policy and a radical reassessment of its proper place in Congress’s budget priorities.

Instead, year after year, members of Congress hand over the largest share of our nation’s resources to this corrupt institution, with minimal scrutiny and no apparent fear of accountability when it comes to their own reelection. Members of Congress still see it as a “safe” political call to carelessly whip out their rubber-stamps and vote for however many hundreds of billions in funding Pentagon and arms industry lobbyists have persuaded the Armed Services Committees they should cough up.

Let’s make no mistake about this: Congress’s choice to keep investing in a massive, ineffective and absurdly expensive war machine has nothing to do with “national security” as most people understand it, or “defense” as the dictionary defines it.

U.S. society does face critical threats to our security, including the climate crisis, systemic racism, erosion of voting rights, gun violence, grave inequalities and the corporate hijacking of political power. But one problem we fortunately do not have is the threat of attack or invasion by a rampant global aggressor or, in fact, by any other country at all.

Maintaining a war machine that outspends the 12 or 13 next largest militaries in the world combined actually makes us less safe, as each new administration inherits the delusion that the United States’ overwhelmingly destructive military power can, and therefore should, be used to confront any perceived challenge to U.S. interests anywhere in the world—even when there is clearly no military solution and when many of the underlying problems were caused by past misapplications of U.S. military power in the first place.

While the international challenges we face in this century require a genuine commitment to international cooperation and diplomacy, Congress allocates only $58 billion, less than 10 percent of the Pentagon budget, to the diplomatic corps of our government: the State Department even worse, both Democratic and Republican administrations keep filling top diplomatic posts with officials indoctrinated and steeped in policies of war and coercion, with scant experience and meager skills in the peaceful diplomacy we so desperately need.

This only perpetuates a failed foreign policy based on false choices between economic sanctions that UN officials have compared to medieval sieges, coups that destabilize countries and regions for decades, and wars and bombing campaigns that kill millions of people and leave cities in rubble, like Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.

The end of the Cold War was a golden opportunity for the United States to reduce its forces and military budget to match its legitimate defense needs. The American public naturally expected and hoped for a “Peace Dividend,” and even veteran Pentagon officials told the Senate Budget Committee in 1991 that military spending could safely be cut by 50% over the next ten years.

But no such cut happened. U.S. officials instead set out to exploit the post-Cold War “Power Dividend,” a huge military imbalance in favor of the United States, by developing rationales for using military force more freely and widely around the world. During the transition to the new Clinton administration, Madeleine Albright famously asked Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell, “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

In 1999, as Secretary of State under President Clinton, Albright got her wish, running roughshod over the UN Charter with an illegal war to carve out an independent Kosovo from the ruins of Yugoslavia.

The UN Charter clearly prohibits the threat or use of military force except in cases of self-defense or when the UN Security Council takes military action “to maintain or restore international peace and security.” This was neither. When U.K. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told Albright his government was “having trouble with our lawyers” over NATO’s illegal war plan, Albright crassly told him to “get new lawyers.”

Twenty-two years later, Kosovo is the third-poorest country in Europe (after Moldova and post-coup Ukraine) and its independence is still not recognized by 96 countries. Hashim Thaçi, Albright’s hand-picked main ally in Kosovo and later its president, is awaiting trial in an international court at the Hague, charged with murdering at least 300 civilians under cover of NATO bombing in 1999 to extract and sell their internal organs on the international transplant market.

Clinton and Albright’s gruesome and illegal war set the precedent for more illegal U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and elsewhere, with equally devastating and horrific results. But America’s failed wars have not led Congress or successive administrations to seriously rethink the U.S. decision to rely on illegal threats and uses of military force to project U.S. power all over the world, nor have they reined in the trillions of dollars invested in these imperial ambitions.

Instead, in the upside-down world of institutionally corrupt U.S. politics, a generation of failed and pointlessly destructive wars have had the perverse effect of normalizing even more expensive military budgets than during the Cold War, and reducing congressional debate to questions of how many more of each useless weapons system they should force U.S. taxpayers to foot the bill for.

It seems that no amount of killing, torture, mass destruction or lives ruined in the real world can shake the militaristic delusions of America’s political class, as long as the “Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex” (President Eisenhower’s original wording) is reaping the benefits.

Today, most political and media references to the Military-Industrial Complex refer only to the arms industry as a self-serving corporate interest group on a par with Wall Street, Big Pharma or the fossil fuel industry. But in his Farewell Address, Eisenhower explicitly pointed to, not just the arms industry, but the “conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry.”

Eisenhower was just as worried about the anti-democratic impact of the military as the arms industry. Weeks before his Farewell Address, he told his senior advisors, “God help this country when somebody sits in this chair who doesn’t know the military as well as I do.” His fears have been realized in every subsequent presidency.

According to Milton Eisenhower, the president’s brother, who helped him draft his Farewell Address, Ike also wanted to talk about the “revolving door.” Early drafts of his speech referred to “a permanent, war-based industry,” with “flag and general officers retiring at an early age to take positions in the war-based industrial complex, shaping its decisions and guiding the direction of its tremendous thrust.” He wanted to warn that steps must be taken to “insure that the ‘merchants of death’ do not come to dictate national policy.”

As Eisenhower feared, the careers of figures like Generals Austin and Mattis now span all branches of the corrupt MIC conglomerate: commanding invasion and occupation forces in Afghanistan and Iraq; then donning suits and ties to sell weapons to new generals who served under them as majors and colonels; and finally re-emerging from the same revolving door as cabinet members at the apex of American politics and government.

So why does the Pentagon brass get a free pass, even as Americans feel increasingly conflicted about the arms industry? After all, it is the military that actually uses all these weapons to kill people and wreak havoc in other countries.

Even as it loses war after war overseas, the U.S. military has waged a far more successful one to burnish its image in the hearts and minds of Americans and win every budget battle in Washington.

The complicity of Congress, the third leg of the stool in Eisenhower’s original formulation, turns the annual battle of the budget into the “cakewalk” that the war in Iraq was supposed to be, with no accountability for lost wars, war crimes, civilian massacres, cost overruns or the dysfunctional military leadership that presides over it all.

There is no congressional debate over the economic impact on America or the geopolitical consequences for the world of uncritically rubber-stamping huge investments in powerful weapons that will sooner or later be used to kill our neighbors and smash their countries, as they have for the past 22 years and far too often throughout our history.

If the public is ever to have any impact on this dysfunctional and deadly money-go-round, we must learn to see through the fog of propaganda that masks self-serving corruption behind red, white and blue bunting, and allows the military brass to cynically exploit the public’s natural respect for brave young men and women who are ready to risk their lives to defend our country. In the Crimean War, the Russians called British troops “lions led by donkeys.” That is an accurate description of today’s U.S. military.

Sixty years after Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, exactly as he predicted, the “weight of this combination” of corrupt generals and admirals, the profitable “merchants of death” whose goods they peddle, and the Senators and Representatives who blindly entrust them with trillions of dollars of the public’s money, constitute the full flowering of President Eisenhower’s greatest fears for our country.

Eisenhower concluded, “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals.” That clarion call echoes through the decades and should unite Americans in every form of democratic organizing and movement building, from elections to education and advocacy to mass protests, to finally reject and dispel the “unwarranted influence” of the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex.

 

 

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The High Stakes of the U.S.-Russia Confrontation Over Ukraine

The border between post-coup Ukraine and the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, based on the Minsk Agreements. Map credit: Wikipedia

The People’s Republics of  Donetsk (DPR) and Luhansk (LPR), which declared independence in response to the U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine in 2014, have once again become flashpoints in the intensifying Cold War between the United States and Russia. The U.S. and NATO appear to be fully supporting a new government offensive against these Russian-backed enclaves, which could quickly escalate into a full-blown international military conflict.

The last time this area became an international tinderbox was in April, when the anti-Russian government of Ukraine threatened an offensive against Donetsk and Luhansk, and Russia assembled thousands of troops along Ukraine’s eastern border.

On that occasion, Ukraine and NATO blinked and called off the offensive. This time around, Russia has again assembled an estimated 90,000 troops near its border with Ukraine. Will Russia once more deter an escalation of the war, or are Ukraine, the United States and NATO seriously preparing to press ahead at the risk of war with Russia?

Since April, the U.S. and its allies have been stepping up their military support for Ukraine. After a March announcement of $125 million in military aid, including armed coastal patrol boats and radar equipment, the U.S. then gave Ukraine another $150 million package in June. This included radar, communications and electronic warfare equipment for the Ukrainian Air Force, bringing total military aid to Ukraine since the U.S.-backed coup in 2014 to $2.5 billion. This latest package appears to include deploying U.S. training personnel to Ukrainian air bases.

Turkey is supplying Ukraine with the same drones it provided to Azerbaijan for its war with Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020. That war killed at least 6,000 people and has recently flared up again, one year after a Russian-brokered ceasefire. Turkish drones wreaked havoc on Armenian troops and civilians alike in Nagorno-Karabakh, and their use in Ukraine would be a horrific escalation of violence against the people of Donetsk and Luhansk.

The ratcheting up of U.S. and NATO support for government forces in Ukraine’s civil war is having ever-worsening diplomatic consequences. At the beginning of October, NATO expelled eight Russian liaison officers from NATO Headquarters in Brussels, accusing them of spying. Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, the manager of the 2014 coup in Ukraine, was dispatched to Moscow in October, ostensibly to calm tensions. Nuland failed so spectacularly that, only a week later, Russia ended 30 years of engagement with NATO, and ordered NATO’s office in Moscow closed.

Nuland reportedly tried to reassure Moscow that the United States and NATO were still committed to the 2014 and 2015 Minsk Accords on Ukraine, which include a ban on offensive military operations and a promise of greater autonomy for Donetsk and Luhansk within Ukraine. But her assurances were belied by Defense Secretary Austin when he met with Ukraine’s President Zelensky in Kiev on October 18, reiterating U.S. support for Ukraine’s future membership in NATO, promising further military support and blaming Russia for “perpetuating the war in Eastern Ukraine.”

More extraordinary, but hopefully more successful, was CIA Director William Burns’s visit to Moscow on November 2nd and 3rd, during which he met with senior Russian military and intelligence officials and spoke by phone with President Putin.

A mission like this is not usually part of the CIA Director’s duties. But after Biden promised a new era of American diplomacy, his foreign policy team is now widely acknowledged to have instead brought U.S. relations with Russia and China to all-time lows.

Judging from the March meeting of Secretary of State Blinken and National Security Advisor Sullivan with Chinese officials in Alaska, Biden’s meeting with Putin in Vienna in June, and Under Secretary Nuland’s recent visit to Moscow, U.S. officials have reduced their encounters with Russian and Chinese officials to mutual recriminations designed for domestic consumption instead of seriously trying to resolve policy differences. In Nuland’s case, she also misled the Russians about the U.S. commitment, or lack of it, to the Minsk Accords. So who could Biden send to Moscow for a serious diplomatic dialogue with the Russians about Ukraine?

In 2002, as Under Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, William Burns wrote a prescient but unheeded 10-page memo to Secretary of State Powell, warning him of the many ways that a U.S. invasion of Iraq could “unravel” and create a “perfect storm” for American interests. Burns is a career diplomat and a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, and may be the only member of this administration with the diplomatic skills and experience to actually listen to the Russians and engage seriously with them.

The Russians presumably told Burns what they have said in public: that U.S. policy is in danger of crossing “red lines” that would trigger decisive and irrevocable Russian responses. Russia has long warned that one red line would be NATO membership for Ukraine and/or Georgia.

But there are clearly other red lines in the creeping U.S. and NATO military presence in and around Ukraine and in the increasing U.S. military support for the Ukrainian government forces assaulting Donetsk and Luhansk. Putin has warned against the build-up of NATO’s military infrastructure in Ukraine and has accused both Ukraine and NATO of destabilizing actions, including in the Black Sea.

With Russian troops amassed at Ukraine’s border for a second time this year, a new Ukrainian offensive that threatens the existence of the DPR and LPR would surely cross another red line, while increasing U.S. and NATO military support for Ukraine may be dangerously close to crossing yet another one.

So did Burns come back from Moscow with a clearer picture of exactly what Russia’s red lines are? We had better hope so. Even U.S. military websites acknowledge that U.S. policy in Ukraine is “backfiring.”

Russia expert Andrew Weiss, who worked under William Burns at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, acknowledged to Michael Crowley of The New York Times that Russia has “escalation dominance” in Ukraine and that, if push comes to shove, Ukraine is simply more important to Russia than to the United States. It therefore makes no sense for the United States to risk triggering World War III over Ukraine, unless it actually wants to trigger World War III.

During the Cold War, both sides developed clear understandings of each other’s “red lines.” Along with a large helping of dumb luck, we can thank those understandings for our continued existence. What makes today’s world even more dangerous than the world of the 1950s or the 1980s is that recent U.S. leaders have cavalierly jettisoned the bilateral nuclear treaties and vital diplomatic relationships that their grandparents forged to stop the Cold War from turning into a hot one.

Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, with the help of Under Secretary of State Averell Harriman and others, conducted negotiations that spanned two administrations, between 1958 and 1963, to achieve a partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty that was the first of a series of bilateral arms control treaties. By contrast, all that Trump, Biden and Under Secretary Victoria Nuland seem to have in common is a startling lack of imagination that blinds them to any possible future beyond a zero-sum, non-negotiable, and yet still unattainable “U.S. Uber Alles” global hegemony.

But Americans should beware of romanticizing the “old” Cold War as a time of peace, simply because we somehow managed to dodge a world-ending nuclear holocaust. U.S. Korean and Vietnam War veterans know better, as do the people in countries across the global South that became bloody battlefields in the ideological struggle between the United States and the U.S.S.R.

Three decades after declaring victory in the Cold War, and after the self-inflicted chaos of the U.S. “Global War on Terror,” U.S. military planners have settled on a new Cold War as the most persuasive pretext to perpetuate their trillion dollar war machine and their unattainable ambition to dominate the entire planet. Instead of asking the U.S. military to adapt to more new challenges it is clearly not up for, U.S. leaders decided to revert to their old conflict with Russia and China to justify the existence and ridiculous expense of their ineffective but profitable war machine.

But the very nature of a Cold War is that it involves the threat and use of force, overt and covert, to contest the political allegiances and economic structures of countries across the world. In our relief at the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, which both Trump and Biden have used to symbolize the “end of endless war,” we should have no illusions that either of them is offering us a new age of peace.

Quite the contrary. What we are watching in Ukraine, Syria, Taiwan and the South China Sea are the opening salvos of an age of more ideological wars that may well be just as futile, deadly and self-defeating as the “war on terror,” and much more dangerous to the United States.

A war with Russia or China would risk escalating into World War III. As Andrew Weiss told the Times on Ukraine, Russia and China would have conventional “escalation dominance,” as well as simply more at stake in wars on their own borders than the United States does.

So what would the United States do if it were losing a major war with Russia or China? U.S. nuclear weapons policy has always kept a “first strike” option open in case of precisely this scenario.

The current U.S. $1.7 trillion plan for a whole range of new nuclear weapons therefore seems to be a response to the reality that the United States cannot expect to defeat Russia and China in conventional wars on their own borders.

But the paradox of nuclear weapons is that the most powerful weapons ever created have no practical value as actual weapons of war, since there can be no winner in a war that kills everybody. Any use of nuclear weapons would quickly trigger a massive use of them by one side or the other, and the war would soon be over for all of us. The only winners would be a few species of radiation-resistant insects and other very small creatures.

Neither Obama, Trump nor Biden has dared to present their reasons for risking World War III over Ukraine or Taiwan to the American public, because there is no good reason. Risking a nuclear holocaust to appease the military-industrial complex is as insane as destroying the climate and the natural world to appease the fossil fuel industry.

So we had better hope that CIA DIrector Burns not only came back from Moscow with a clear picture of Russia’s “red lines,” but that President Biden and his colleagues understand what Burns told them and what is at stake in Ukraine. They must step back from the brink of a U.S.-Russia war, and then from the larger Cold War with China and Russia that they have so blindly and foolishly stumbled into.

 

The post The High Stakes of the U.S.-Russia Confrontation Over Ukraine first appeared on Dissident Voice.

COP 26: Can a Singing, Dancing Rebellion Save the World?

Greta Thunberg leads protests in Italy ahead of COP26. Credit: Radio Habana Cuba

COP Twenty-six! That is how many times the UN has assembled world leaders to try to tackle the climate crisis. But the United States is producing more oil and natural gas than ever; the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere and global temperatures are both still rising; and we are already experiencing the extreme weather and climate chaos that scientists have warned us about for forty years, and which will only get worse and worse without serious climate action.

And yet, the planet has so far only warmed 1.2° Celsius (2.2° F) since pre-industrial times. We already have the technology we need to convert our energy systems to clean, renewable energy, and doing so would create millions of good jobs for people all over the world. So, in practical terms, the steps we must take are clear, achievable and urgent.

The greatest obstacle to action that we face is our dysfunctional, neoliberal political and economic system and its control by plutocratic and corporate interests, who are determined to keep profiting from fossil fuels even at the cost of destroying the Earth’s uniquely livable climate. The climate crisis has exposed this system’s structural inability to act in the real interests of humanity, even when our very future hangs in the balance.

So what is the answer? Can COP26 in Glasgow be different? What could make the difference between more slick political PR and decisive action? Counting on the same politicians and fossil fuel interests (yes, they are there, too) to do something different this time seems suicidal, but what is the alternative?

Since Obama’s Pied Piper leadership in Copenhagen and Paris produced a system in which individual countries set their own targets and decided how to meet them, most countries have made little progress toward the targets they set in Paris in 2015.

Now they have come to Glasgow with predetermined and inadequate pledges that, even if fulfilled, would still lead to a much hotter world by 2100. A succession of UN and civil society reports in the lead-up to COP26 have been sounding the alarm with what UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called a “thundering wake-up call” and a “code red for humanity.” In Guterres’ opening speech at COP26 on November 1st, he said that “we are digging our own graves” by failing to solve this crisis.

Yet governments are still focusing on long-term goals like reaching “Net Zero” by 2050, 2060 or even 2070, so far in the future that they can keep postponing the radical steps needed to limit warming to 1.5° Celsius. Even if they somehow stopped pumping greenhouse gases into the air, the amount of GHGs in the atmosphere by 2050 would keep heating up the planet for generations. The more we load up the atmosphere with GHGs, the longer their effect will last and the hotter the Earth will keep growing.

The United States has set a shorter-term target of reducing its emissions by 50% from their peak 2005 level by 2030. But its present policies would only lead to a 17%-25% reduction by then.

The Clean Energy Performance Program (CEPP), which was part of the Build Back Better Act, could make up a lot of that gap by paying electric utilities to increase reliance on renewables by 4% year over year and penalizing utilities that don’t. But on the eve of COP 26, Biden dropped the CEPP from the bill under pressure from Senators Manchin and Sinema and their fossil fuel puppet-masters.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military, the largest institutional emitter of GHGs on Earth, was exempted from any constraints whatsoever under the Paris Agreement. Peace activists in Glasgow are demanding that COP26 must fix this huge black hole in global climate policy by including the U.S. war machine’s GHG emissions, and those of other militaries, in national emissions reporting and reductions.

At the same time, every penny that governments around the world have spent to address the climate crisis amounts to a small fraction of what the United States alone has spent on its nation-destroying war machine during the same period.

China now officially emits more CO2 than the United States. But a large part of China’s emissions are driven by the rest of the world’s consumption of Chinese products, and its largest customer is the United States. An MIT study in 2014 estimated that exports account for 22% of China’s carbon emissions. On a per capita consumption basis, Americans still account for three times the GHG emissions of our Chinese neighbors and double the emissions of Europeans.

Wealthy countries have also fallen short on the commitment they made in Copenhagen in 2009 to help poorer countries tackle climate change by providing financial aid that would grow to $100 billion per year by 2020. They have provided increasing amounts, reaching $79 billion in 2019, but the failure to deliver the full amount that was promised has eroded trust between rich and poor countries. A committee headed by Canada and Germany at COP26 is charged with resolving the shortfall and restoring trust.

When the world’s political leaders are failing so badly that they are destroying the natural world and the livable climate that sustains human civilization, it is urgent for people everywhere to get much more active, vocal and creative.

The appropriate public response to governments that are ready to squander the lives of millions of people, whether by war or by ecological mass suicide, is rebellion and revolution – and non-violent forms of revolution have generally proven more effective and beneficial than violent ones.

People are rising up against this corrupt neoliberal political and economic system in countries all over the world, as its savage impacts affect their lives in different ways. But the climate crisis is a universal danger to all of humanity that requires a universal, global response.

One inspiring civil society group on the streets in Glasgow during COP 26 is Extinction Rebellion, which proclaims, “We accuse world leaders of failure, and with a daring vision of hope, we demand the impossible…We will sing and dance and lock arms against despair and remind the world there is so much worth rebelling for.”

Extinction Rebellion and other climate groups at COP26 are calling for Net Zero by 2025, not 2050, as the only way to meet the 1.5° goal agreed to in Paris.

Greenpeace is calling for an immediate global moratorium on new fossil fuel projects and a quick phase-out of coal-burning power plants. Even the new coalition government in Germany, which includes the Green Party and has more ambitious goals than other large wealthy countries, has only moved up the final deadline on Germany’s coal phaseout from 2038 to 2030.

The Indigenous Environmental Network is bringing indigenous people from the Global South to Glasgow to tell their stories at the conference. They are calling on the Northern industrialized countries to declare a climate emergency, to keep fossil fuels in the ground and end subsidies of fossil fuels globally.

Friends of the Earth (FOE) has published a new report titled Nature-Based Solutions: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing as a focus for its work at COP26. It exposes a new trend in corporate greenwashing involving industrial-scale tree plantations in poor countries, which corporations plan to claim as “offsets” for continued fossil fuel production.

The U.K. government that is hosting the conference in Glasgow has endorsed these schemes as part of the program at COP26. FOE is highlighting the effect of these massive land-grabs on local and indigenous communities and calls them “a dangerous deception and distraction from the real solutions to the climate crisis.” If this is what governments mean by “Net Zero,” it would just be one more step in the financialization of the Earth and all its resources, not a real solution.

Because it is hard for activists from around the world to get to Glasgow for COP26 during a pandemic, activist groups are simultaneously organizing around the world to put pressure on governments in their own countries. Hundreds of climate activists and indigenous people have been arrested in protests at the White House in Washington, and five young Sunrise Movement activists began a hunger strike there on October 19th.

U.S. climate groups also support the “Green New Deal” bill, H.Res. 332, that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has introduced in Congress, which specifically calls for policies to keep global warming below 1.5° Celsius, and currently has 103 cosponsors. The bill sets ambitious targets for 2030, but only calls for Net Zero by 2050.

The environmental and climate groups converging on Glasgow agree that we need a real global program of energy conversion now, as a practical matter, not as the aspirational goal of an endlessly ineffective, hopelessly corrupt political process.

At COP25 in Madrid in 2019, Extinction Rebellion dumped a pile of horse manure outside the conference hall with the message, “The horse-shit stops here.” Of course, that didn’t stop it, but it made the point that empty talk must rapidly be eclipsed by real action. Greta Thunberg has hit the nail on the head, slamming world leaders for covering up their failures with “blah, blah, blah,” instead of taking real action.

Like Greta’s School Strike for the Climate, the climate movement in the streets of Glasgow is informed by the recognition that the science is clear and the solutions to the climate crisis are readily available. It is only political will that is lacking. This must be supplied by ordinary people, from all walks of life, through creative, dramatic action and mass mobilization, to demand the political and economic transformation we so desperately need.

The usually mild-mannered UN Secretary General Guterres made it clear that “street heat” will be key to saving humanity. “The climate action army – led by young people – is unstoppable,” he told world leaders in Glasgow. “They are larger. They are louder. And, I assure you, they are not going away.”

The post COP 26: Can a Singing, Dancing Rebellion Save the World? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Our Future vs. Neoliberalism

(Photo:  Tom Pennington)

In country after country around the world, people are rising up to challenge entrenched, failing neoliberal political and economic systems, with mixed but sometimes promising results.

Progressive leaders in the U.S. Congress are refusing to back down on the Democrats’ promises to American voters to reduce poverty, expand rights to healthcare, education and clean energy, and repair a shredded social safety net. After decades of tax cuts for the rich, they are also committed to raising taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations to pay for this popular agenda.

Germany has elected a ruling coalition of Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats that excludes the conservative Christian Democrats for the first time since 2000. The new government promises a $14 minimum wage, solar panels on all suitable roof space, 2% of land for wind farms and the closure of Germany’s last coal-fired power plants by 2030.

Iraqis voted in an election that was called in response to a popular protest movement launched in October 2019 to challenge the endemic corruption of the post-2003 political class and its subservience to U.S. and Iranian interests. The protest movement was split between taking part in the election and boycotting it, but its candidates still won about 35 seats and will have a voice in parliament. The party of long-time Iraqi nationalist leader Muqtada al-Sadr won 73 seats, the largest of any single party, while Iranian-backed parties whose armed militias killed hundreds of protesters in 2019 lost popular support and many of their seats.

Chile’s billionaire president, Sebastian Piñera, is being impeached after the Pandora Papers revealed details of bribery and tax evasion in his sale of a mining company, and he could face up to 5 years in prison. Mass street protests in 2019 forced Piñera to agree to a new constitution to replace the one written under the Pinochet military dictatorship, and a convention that includes representatives of indigenous and other marginalized communities has been elected to draft the constitution. Progressive parties and candidates are expected to do well in the general election in November.

Maybe the greatest success of people power has come in Bolivia. In 2020, only a year after a U.S.-backed right-wing military coup, a mass mobilization of mostly indigenous working people forced a new election, and the socialist MAS Party of Evo Morales was returned to power. Since then it has already introduced a new wealth tax and welfare payments to four million people to help eliminate hunger in Bolivia.

The Ideological Context

Since the 1970s, Western political and corporate leaders have peddled a quasi-religious belief in the power of “free” markets and unbridled capitalism to solve all the world’s problems. This new “neoliberal” orthodoxy is a thinly disguised reversion to the systematic injustice of 19th century laissez-faire capitalism, which led to gross inequality and poverty even in wealthy countries, famines that killed tens of millions of people in India and China, and horrific exploitation of the poor and vulnerable worldwide.

For most of the 20th century, Western countries gradually responded to the excesses and injustices of capitalism by using the power of government to redistribute wealth through progressive taxation and a growing public sector, and ensure broad access to public goods like education and healthcare. This led to a gradual expansion of broadly shared prosperity in the United States and Western Europe through a strong public sector that balanced the power of private corporations and their owners.

The steadily growing shared prosperity of the post-WWII years in the West was derailed by a  combination of factors, including the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, Nixon’s freeze on prices and wages, runaway inflation caused by dropping the gold standard, and then a second oil crisis after the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Right-wing politicians led by Ronald Reagan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in the U.K. blamed the power of organized labor and the public sector for the economic crisis. They launched a “neoliberal” counter-revolution to bust unions, shrink and privatize the public sector, cut taxes, deregulate industries and supposedly unleash “the magic of the market.” Then they took credit for a return to economic growth that really owed more to the end of the oil crises.

The United States and United Kingdom used their economic, military and media power to spread their neoliberal gospel across the world. Chile’s experiment in neoliberalism under Pinochet’s military dictatorship became a model for U.S. efforts to roll back the “pink tide” in Latin America. When the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe opened to the West at the end of the Cold War, it was the extreme, neoliberal brand of capitalism that Western economists imposed as “shock therapy” to privatize state-owned enterprises and open countries to Western corporations.

In the United States, the mass media shy away from the word “neoliberalism” to describe the changes in society since the 1980s. They describe its effects in less systemic terms, as globalization, privatization, deregulation, consumerism and so on, without calling attention to their common ideological roots. This allows them to treat its impacts as separate, unconnected problems: poverty and inequality, mass incarceration, environmental degradation, ballooning debt, money in politics, disinvestment in public services, declines in public health, permanent war, and record military spending.

After a generation of systematic neoliberal control, it is now obvious to people all over the world that neoliberalism has utterly failed to solve the world’s problems. As many predicted all along, it has just enabled the rich to get much, much richer, while structural and even existential problems remain unsolved.

Even once people have grasped the self-serving, predatory nature of this system that has overtaken their political and economic life, many still fall victim to the demoralization and powerlessness that are among its most insidious products, as they are brainwashed to see themselves only as individuals and consumers, instead of as active and collectively powerful citizens.

In effect, confronting neoliberalism—whether as individuals, groups, communities or countries—requires a two-step process. First, we must understand the nature of the beast that has us and the world in its grip, whatever we choose to call it. Second, we must overcome our own demoralization and powerlessness, and rekindle our collective power as political and economic actors to build the better world we know is possible.

We will see that collective power in the streets and the suites at COP26 in Glasgow, when the world’s leaders will gather to confront the reality that neoliberalism has allowed corporate profits to trump a rational response to the devastating impact of fossil fuels on the Earth’s climate. Extinction Rebellion and other groups will be in the streets in Glasgow, demanding the long-delayed action that is required to solve the problem, including an end to net carbon emissions by 2025.

While scientists warned us for decades what the result would be, political and business leaders have peddled their neoliberal snake oil to keep filling their coffers at the expense of the future of life on Earth. If we fail to stop them now, living conditions will keep deteriorating for people everywhere, as the natural world our lives depend on is washed out from under our feet, goes up in smoke and, species by species, dies and disappears forever.

The Covid pandemic is another real world case study on the impact of neoliberalism. As the official death toll reaches 5 million and many more deaths go unreported, rich countries are still hoarding vaccines, drug companies are reaping a bonanza of profits from vaccines and new drugs, and the lethal, devastating injustice of the entire neoliberal “market” system is laid bare for the whole world to see. Calls for a “people’s vaccine” and “vaccine justice” have been challenging what has now been termed “vaccine apartheid.”

Conclusion

In the 1980s, U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher often told the world, “There is no alternative” to the neoliberal order she and President Reagan were unleashing. After only one or two generations, the self-serving insanity they prescribed and the crises it has caused have made it a question of survival for humanity to find alternatives.

Around the world, ordinary people are rising up to demand real change. The people of Iraq, Chile and Bolivia have overcome the incredible traumas inflicted on them to take to the streets in the thousands and demand better government. Americans should likewise demand that our government stop wasting trillions of dollars to militarize the world and destroy countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, and start solving our real problems, here and abroad.

People around the world understand the nature of the problems we face better than we did a generation or even a decade ago. Now we must overcome demoralization and powerlessness in order to act. It helps to understand that the demoralization and powerlessness we may feel are themselves products of this neoliberal system, and that simply overcoming them is a victory in itself.

As we reject the inevitability of neoliberalism and Thatcher’s lie that there is no alternative, we must also reject the lie that we are just passive, powerless consumers. As human beings, we have the same collective power that human beings have always had to build a better world for ourselves and our children – and now is the time to harness that power.

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